King Mohammed VI had a telephone conversation 10 December 2020 with Donald Trump. His Majesty the King referred to the consistent and balanced positions of the Kingdom of Morocco on the Palestinian question, stressing that Morocco supports a solution of two states living side-by-side in peace and security and that negotiations between the Palestinian and Israeli sides remain the only way to achieve a final, lasting and comprehensive settlement of this conflict.
Although Moroccan authorities historically downplayed any relations, commercial links have existed for almost 60 years in the realms of military and intelligence, technology, and agriculture. The announcement is not surprising: ties between Israel and Morocco have been relatively strong for decades. Morocco was a one-time hub of Jewish life in the region and the King has increasingly embraced Jewish Moroccan heritage, naming senior Jewish advisers to his government and, most recently, incorporating Moroccan Jewish history into school curricula.
Morocco was set to ink a deal to purchase advanced drones from the US, suggesting a possible connection with the progress of the arms sale with Morocco’s decision to normalise ties with Israel. Earlier in 2020, Rabat received three Israeli reconnaissance drones as part of a $48 million deal.
Israel’s historical relationship with Morocco could be viewed through the prism of its grand strategy known as the “periphery doctrine”, which was advanced by then-Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion and his advisers in a search for regional allies against the “Arab core” (originally understood as a coalition of states led by Egypt). These allies have been both countries and ethnic or religious minorities within countries and have at various times included Turkey, the Shah’s Iran, Ethiopia, Sudan – along with Morocco. The doctrine was primarily adopted by the Israeli intelligence community and eventually became internalised in Tel Aviv’s strategic thinking.
In his capacity as Chairman of the Al-Quds Committee of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, His Majesty the King underlined the need to preserve the special status of this city. The Sovereign also insisted on the respect of the freedom to practice religious rites for the followers of the three monotheistic religions, as well as the respect of the Islamic character of Al-Quds Asharif and Al-Aqsa Mosque, in accordance with the Al-Quds/Jerusalem Call signed by His Majesty the King, Commander of the Faithful, and His Holiness Pope Francis, during his visit to Rabat on March 30, 2019.
In view of the historic role that Morocco has always played in bringing the peoples of the region closer together and in promoting peace and stability in the Middle East, and given the special ties that unite the Jewish community of Moroccan origin, including in Israel, to the person of His Majesty the King, the Sovereign informed the U.S. President that Morocco intended :
- To grant authorizations for direct flights for the transportation of members of the Moroccan Jewish community and Israeli tourists to and from Morocco;
- Resume official contacts with counterparts and diplomatic relations as soon as possible;
- Promote innovative relations in the economic and technological fields, including working to reopen liaison offices in both countries, as was the case previously and for several years until 2002.
His Majesty the King stressed that these measures affect in no way Morocco's permanent and sustained commitment to the just Palestinian cause and its determination to continue to contribute effectively and constructively to a just and lasting peace in the Middle East.
Morocco has consistently worked for peace and has been the most forward leaning Arab State. Morocco has continued to maintain quiet diplomatic contacts with Israel. It continues to permit and even invite Israeli representatives to attend international conferences here.
King Mohammed VI inherited his father's mantle as Chairman of the Al-Quds or Jerusalem Committee of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC). The Committee is responsible for preserving the Islamic holy places in Jerusalem and the Islamic character and population of the ancient city. The Committee has a related Fund, based in Rabat that runs relatively modest projects to support sites and the people of Jerusalem, some of which also benefit citizens of other religions.
A majority of Moroccans approve of normalizing relations with Israel, but some in Morocco do not agree. A segment of the population, particularly the Islamists, do not like the idea of warmer relations with Israel and think it is equivalent to "treason" by the government. Morocco was not involved in Israeli-Palestinian relations for philanthropic reasons or because of the large number of Moroccan Jews, but that it is a "political choice" to help Palestinians.
When Morocco’s King Hassan II took power in 1961, Israelis embarked on a highly successful effort to cultivate him. After Israeli agents embedded themselves with opposition leader Mehdi Ben Barka, they informed Hassan of a plot to overthrow him. From that moment on, years of covert security cooperation would be ushered in.
The King subsequently allowed Israel’s secret service wing Mossad to establish a station in Morocco. Tel Aviv provided weapons and trained Moroccans to use them, organised the Moroccan intelligence service, and supplied surveillance technology. The two countries’ spies also engaged in information-sharing.
In 1965, when Arab leaders and military commanders met in Casablanca, Morocco allowed Mossad to bug their meetings and private residences – tipping off the Israelis with information that would become vital leading up to the 1967 war. Gen. Shlomo Gazit, a former Israeli military intelligence chief, claimed those secret recordings of Arab leadership discussions in the runup to the Six Day War were crucial in revealing how splintered and unprepared the Arabs were for war.
Mossad then had a hand in luring Moroccan opposition leader Barka to Paris on the request of Moroccan intelligence, where he was abducted and tortured to death. In the lead up to the 1978 Camp David accords, King Hassan and his government became the back channel for secret meetings between Egyptian and Israeli officials, ahead of the normalisation between the former political foes.
During the 1980s when King Hassan II appeared to gesture towards normalisation with Israel, he faced a powerful backlash from both Moroccans and the Arab world – ultimately forcing him to backtrack from his attempt and maintain bilateral collaboration discreetly.
Prime Minister Shimon Peres, trip to Morocco in 1986 helped energize the peace process and take the heat off Egypt and Jordan. Post-Oslo, Israel opened a liaison office. In 1994, three North African Arab states - Morocco, Mauritania, and Tunisia - joined other Arab countries and chose to take the path of peace and reconciliation by forming diplomatic ties with Israel. On September 1, 1994 the government of Israel announces its decision to open a liaison office in Rabat, in accordance with the rules and procedures of the Convention on diplomatic relations. In accordance with that same Convention, the government of Israel will allow the Kingdom of Morocco to open a similar liaison office in Tel-Aviv.
On 02 September 2003 Morocco took a strategic decision to reinstate relations between the two countries to their previous status, and to even improve upon them. The King told Minister Shalom that Morocco is interested in being involved in the peace process in a significant and constructive manner, and expressed the hope that Minister Shalom's visit to Morocco will encourage additional Arab states to establish an open dialogue with Israel.
But the Government of Morocco (GOM) closed the liaison office during the Intifada in 2000. In November 2008, former Israeli Foreign Minister Sylvan Shalom (of Moroccan origin) and several current Israeli senior officials, including an adviser to then Israeli Foreign Minister Livni, attended a public conference on the Mediterranean that was sponsored by a think tank run by the son of Foreign Minister Fassi Fihri. The Minister had an unannounced bilateral meeting with the Israelis, whom he has met in international settings, including with Livni during the Fall 2008 Quartet meetings in Sharm el Sheikh. At that time, Moroccan officials acknowledged they were looking at enhancing their relations, but discussions about a possible dramatic step, including a possible visit here by Livni, were put on hold following the Israeli intervention in Gaza.
By 2009 Morocco had agreed to resume the bilateral Israeli-Moroccan dialogue that was suspended by Morocco during Operation Cast Lead. Morocco and Israel took advantage of Israeli participation in the 3-5 June 2009 Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism seminar in Rabat to re-launch a diplomatic relationship that had been on ice since the Israeli military action in Gaza in December 2008 and January 2009.
As a general rule, Moroccan officials promise to move forward and "do things" but they never follow through. Instead, they meet with Israelis, say very positive things without making any commitments, and then ask the Israelis to assist them with their own diplomatic issues (e.g. western Sahara).
With their Arab and Jewish cultures intertwined, 600,000 Jews of Moroccan descent living in Israel are in a very unique position to foster links between Arabs and Jews. (other sources commonly cites the number of Israelis of Moroccan descent as closer to 900,000). Moroccan Jews in Israel are now third generation. Their links back to Morocco and its culture have become stronger from one generation to the next. He explained that, for their own pleasure and to preserve their Moroccan identity, Moroccan Jews have done all they can to keep their Moroccan memories, language, music, and cuisine.
Moroccan Jews enjoy large representation in Israel's political scene. Amos Peretz, a head of the Israeli Labor Party, indicated Moroccan influence in Israel. Peretz was a Moroccan Jew born in the northeastern Moroccan town of Oujda, but left Morocco at the age of four. A large portion of the Israeli Likud Party's administration, a several prominent religious leaders in Israel, and 40 percent of mayors and municipal leaders of Israeli cities are of Moroccan descent.
The population of hundreds of thousands of Moroccan Jews in Israel (historically key supporters of Likud) continues to maintain some ties to the one percent of the original Jewish population that remains here. The pillars of Moroccan society have been vocal about their tolerance toward that remaining community, stressing the historical and continuing contribution of its Jewish citizens to the Moroccan state.
Even members of Islamist parties that complain about the depth of continuing ties with Israel stress their appreciation of the Jewish community. Their policy critiques have failed to disrupt continuing trade ties.
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